ABERDEEN recovered from the loss of a goal after just 40 seconds to record their first league victory at Fir Park for five years, in the process delivering a performance which suggests they may just be capable of living up to their pre-season billing as best of the rest behind Celtic.
Scorers: Motherwell - Anier 1; Aberdeen - McGinn pen 62, pen 84; Reynolds 76
Derek McInnes’s side unquestionably deserved to maintain their winning start to the new Scottish Premiership.
After Estonian forward Henri Anier had given Motherwell their early lead, Aberdeen generally played with greater poise, pace and purpose than their hosts.
It seemed that a combination of misfortune and sloppy finishing might render their efforts in vain but they reaped their reward in the closing half hour, Niall McGinn scoring twice from the penalty spot either side of a thumping headed goal by Mark Reynolds.
While Motherwell faded noticeably in those closing stages, there was certainly no immediate hint of leg-weariness in the home ranks following their midweek Europa League trek to Russia as they made a turbo-charged start to the contest and stunned Aberdeen with Anier’s early breakthrough.
The visitors’ defence was caught cold as John Sutton’s intelligent reverse pass set Anier free on the left side of the penalty area and, just as he had done with his winner at Easter Road seven days earlier, the striker finished with impressive composure, sweeping a right-foot shot beyond Jamie Langfield.
Aberdeen’s response to such a startling setback was admirably rapid and purposeful as they contributed to a contest which was pleasing on the eye. McInnes’s men could count themselves unfortunate not to draw level before the interval.
With Peter Pawlett’s pace in a central midfield role causing Motherwell concern, Aberdeen created a series of decent openings. Lee Hollis made a fine save to deny Niall McGinn in the seventh minute after Willo Flood had played the forward in, then Pawlett eased away from a Stephen McManus challenge to fire in a shot which took a deflection off Shaun Hutchinson before striking the crossbar.
While Motherwell were troubling Aberdeen in the wide areas at the other end of the pitch, with Zaine Francis-Angol and James McFadden finding space on either flank, they were unable to carve out any clear-cut chances to add to their lead.
Aberdeen continued to push for an equaliser and Ryan Jack curled a 20-yard shot just off target from the edge of the penalty area. They were then denied by the frame of the goal once more, Calvin Zola this time beating McManus on the right of the area before his left-foot shot smacked off the bar.
The action was more fluent than is the norm in Scottish top-flight fixtures, but the traditional feistiness was never far from the surface and Flood became the first man cautioned for a reckless challenge on Simon Ramsden.
Aberdeen continued to dominate possession after the break but Zola’s pursuit of his first goal for the club proved fruitless. He missed a glorious chance in the 48th minute, embarrassingly executing a fresh air swipe at the ball after being set up by Jonny Hayes, then he passed up another inviting opportunity when he shot wide from close range after Hayes had again delivered from the right.
But the Pittodrie men, who had to replace injured captain Russell Anderson with Clark Robertson, finally made their pressure tell in the 62nd minute. The goal was another calamity for McManus after his own goal in Krasnodar on Thursday night. After Hayes had dispossessed Steven Hammell to surge into the penalty area, McManus horribly mis-timed his tackle on the Irishman to concede a blatant spot-kick.
McGinn, Aberdeen’s top scorer last season, stepped up to claim his first of the new campaign, sending Hollis the wrong way as he slammed the penalty high to the goalkeeper’s left.
Although Motherwell tried to react positively, there was a clear sense that the momentum was firmly with Aberdeen and they duly went ahead in the 76th minute. McManus conceded a free kick on Aberdeen’s left with a foul on McGinn and Hayes swept the set piece over for Reynolds to rise and score against his former club with a tremendous header.
Stuart McCall made a treble substitution but the game was up for his team when Aberdeen stretched their lead with another penalty. McManus was judged guilty of shirt-pulling and McGinn made another consummate job of converting from 12 yards, again driving the ball firmly to Hollis’s left.
Motherwell: Hollis, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, Hammell, McFadden (Moore 86), Lasley (Kerr 85), Vigurs, Francis-Angol, Sutton, Anier (McHugh 86). Subs not used: Lawson, Nielsen, Cummins, Carswell.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Shaughnessy, Anderson (Robertson 51), Hector, Reynolds, Pawlett (Wylde 72), Jack, Flood, Hayes, Zola (Magennis 64), McGinn. Subs Not Used: Vernon, Weaver, Storie, Murray.